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This review is taken from PN Review 74, Volume 16 Number 6, July - August 1990.

WITHERING Roy Fisher: Poems 1955-1987 (O.U.P.) £7.95
Peter Scupham: The Air Show (O.U.P.) £4.95
David Wright: Selected Poems (Carcanet) £4.95

Being a middle-aged poet is no enviable state. The weight of the past begins to dominate present experience, and yet the poetics of the enclosed, intense moment provide no method of dealing with any apprehension of the world as undergoing change. When it was still thought that poetry could instruct people rather than merely provide images of authentic experience, this poetic menopause was handled by assuming that one would now turn away from the idle toys of one's youth and aspire to higher things, and the confidence one can read in the later work of Milton or Jonson indicates an unexpressed belief that although ageing creates enough problems in real life it does not bring about any essential difference in the poetic act itself. With Romanticism, however, such optimism disappears, for the poet can only expect declining powers as he ages, and the act of composition becomes an elegiac regret at what has been lost or a bitter straining after that which is no longer there. This can be argued to imply a changed conception of history: the past has ceased to be something fairly like the present which can reflect the light of understanding upon it, becoming instead something which may have brought the present into existence but only drifts away from it into deeper alienation. This applies equally to the individual life, and the amount of insanity among poets of the Romantic period is an indication of how easily the history of the personality could grow irrelevant ...


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